A new government regulation to ban the sale of loose cigarettes will crush the “backbone of the informal trade”.So says the South African Informal Traders Association (Saita), which criticised the Department of Health for not understanding the “realities of the informal trade” when drawing up the new regulation. The department last week released for public comment the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill, which also seeks to ban the display of tobacco products in shops. The Witness reported previously that the Bill also sought to ban all smoking in public, something that was dismissed as unnecessary by industry watchdogs. Saita estimated that as much as one-third of the average informal traders’ income came from selling cigarettes. Saita said there were 2,2 million informal traders, hawkers, spaza shop owners and home-based informal traders across the country, many of whom would be hit hard by this proposal.One such is Nosipho Chonco, who has become a fixture outside the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court. For about a decade, Chonco has sold sweets, chips, airtime and cigarettes on the steps of the court. She sells about 120 cigarettes for R2, every day.“Something like this [regulation] would affect us badly because selling loose is the only way we make a profit. People come here and say they only have R1 or R2 and can’t afford a pack of 20 cigarettes.” Outside the Bessie Head Library, Tony Liwonde carries his goods on a bread crate. “Ever since I started selling cigarettes no one has ever bought a pack of 20 or 30 from me, only loose. “If this [regulation] comes it will let us down. Selling loose is how we make money, it’s how we make a profit. It’s the main thing we sell.” The acting president of Saita, Rosheda Muller, said such a regulation by government would crush informal trading, possibly leading to them being unable to support their families. “If you look at any taxi rank or township trader, you will see that these [loose cigarettes] are the backbone of the informal trade.”Regarding the proposal to ban the display of tobacco products in shops, Muller said: “This won’t work in the informal trade as we don’t have the infrastructure of the formal sector. We simply don’t have anywhere to hide the products. “The minister seems to think that by hiding cigarettes away, people will stop smoking. Anyone can tell you that it won’t work.”Another aspect of the Bill is to put all cigarettes in plain packaging — something Muller believes would drive the illicit trade of cigarettes.Saita called for an exemption of the informal trade on these aspects of the Bill. It encouraged the small and informal business fraternity to submit concerns to the Department of Health.